Neymar finally gives Brazil a reason to celebrate its Olympics

Neymar (10) is swarmed by Brazilian teammates after scoring the deciding kick in the shootout against Germany on Saturday.
Neymar (10) is swarmed by Brazilian teammates after scoring the deciding kick in the shootout against Germany on Saturday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times )

When Brazil’s long nightmare finally ended Saturday, the captain of its soccer team dropped to his knees and spread his arms in celebration.

If “Christ the Redeemer” is Rio de Janeiro’s iconic emblem, the image of a kneeling, sobbing Neymar, eyes looking to the heavens, will be how Brazilians remember the city’s Olympics.

The Rio Games have been plagued by crime, polluted water and venue problems. v There were half-empty stadiums, overcrowded streets and little approaching the excitement of past Olympics.


But when Neymar’s penalty kick ended a tiebreaking shootout with Germany on Saturday, it did more than give Brazil its first Olympic soccer title. It also gave the host country something to celebrate.

“Look at me. I’m trembling,” said Ana Claudio, who traveled from distant Manaus, on the edge of the Amazon, to see Saturday’s final. “It was all worth it.”

She wasn’t alone in that belief. More than 83,000 singing, chanting fans packed the historic Maracana, some standing three deep behind the last row in the upper deck. So many came dressed in the yellow shirt of the Brazilian national team, the stands looked like a vast field of golden poppies. When Neymar stutter-stepped to the ball and sent a right-footed shot to the back of the net, ending the second Olympic final to go to a shootout, it produced a deafening, cathartic roar .

“It feels so good. I’m so happy,” said teenager Felipe Seixas of Rio, who is too young to remember his country’s last World Cup victory in 2002 — but who will never forget its first Olympic win.

In Seixas’ eyes, the game also erased the bitter taste of Brazil’s embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany two years ago in the most lopsided World Cup semifinal in history. None of the players who took part in that game played in the Olympics, which is an under-23 competition, making Saturday’s game more an introduction than a reunion.

For Seixas, however, it was something more.

“Revenge,” he said.

But like everything in these Games, it didn’t come easily for Brazil, which was held to scoreless ties in its first two group play games and barely escaped elimination before catching fire in the elimination round.


In the final, Neymar opened the scoring in the 28th minute with an exquisitely placed free kick just under the crossbar and inside the near post.

Germany, which went on to win the World Cup title in this same stadium two years ago, punched back 14 minutes into second half after a poor Brazil clearance resulted in a turnover deep in its own end. Germany worked the ball around the perimeter until Jeremy Toljan sent a cross in from the left wing for captain Max Meyer, who found himself with space in the center of the penalty area. From there it was an easy finish for Meyer’s fourth goal of the tournament and the first Brazil allowed in six games.

Neither team would score again, though not for a lack of trying. Brazil had 10 shots in the second half alone and four more in the 30-minute overtime. The teams then matched goals through the first four rounds of the shootout, the tension building with each attempt.

Two years ago, Brazil wilted under the World Cup pressure with Neymar among those who sobbed on the field during the team’s shootout win over Chile in the round of 16, forcing the Brazilian federation to call in psychologists.

That wasn’t necessary this time. After Brazilian goalkeeper Weverton guessed correctly on Nils Petersen’s attempt to start the fifth round, diving to his left to make a two-handed save, Neymar — calmly this time — stepped up and ended the game.


“The only thing on my mind was I had to do this. I have fulfilled my dream and to have fulfilled it in my home country makes me very proud,” said Neymar, who was mobbed by his teammates after the winning kick.

At midfield his coach, Rogerio Micale, dropped to the ground in tears. Up in the stands, Eduardo Gomes celebrated too.

“It was so difficult. But we are so happy,” he said.

Not that Saturday makes up for everything.

“No,” Gomes said. “That German victory is unforgettable. But I feel better. I will remember this. I will remember Zika too.”

Twitter: @kbaxter11